Should you be heading stateside?

OnLevel’s Gary Dean reports from Glass Build America.

The first glass exhibition that I have been able to attend for almost two years was always going to be weird. Add to that the rather complex efforts required to get to the USA in September in Covid times, the strange tough-to-lax rules in Atlanta, and some exhibitors not allowed in to the country in time, and Glass Build America 2021 was going to be a different experience.

I was fortunate. I applied for the special NIE visa to the US Embassy in London in good time, and we had booked our own small stand to introduce OnLevel to the US market, which gave me relatively free passage to the exhibition.

Build-up was the usually frantic process of waiting around for access and then building your stand around everyone else cheek-to-jowl, and at a glass industry exhibition you have to have your wits about you – lots of glass and metal don’t mix with clumsy.

The NGA put in a huge pre-show effort to get the highest level of profile and attendance, and that was special, because within the USA itself it was still uncomfortable to move from some states to others, and the wearing of face masks throughout the airports and planes, even on domestic flights, is vigorously enforced.

No doubt some potential visitors were put off by how much trouble it all seemed. Despite this, visitor turnout was good. The stands where busy throughout the day, apart from the normal lunch time fall off.

A strong presence from European machinery companies was once again a highlight, with great investments made in large stands with fully operating machinery. The Italian area was the only one where all the aisles where carpeted too, further demonstrating the commitment and confidence these companies have in a strong rebound of the USA market in 2022 and beyond.

There were no global glass companies apart from Vitro Glass, who had a bit of an open goal presented to them, which was sad because each market should expect its large corporate players to support its key industry exhibition.

A headline product was VacuMax vacuum insulating glass (VIG) by Vitro Architectural Glass, which the company claims integrates with any traditional (and even non-traditional) glazing system to maximize insulation performance. With an R-value of R14+, VacuMax VIG is the ultimate in thermal glazing, delivering R-values close to those of a traditional wall, the story goes, and this seemed to have visitors’ attention for sure.

The other key event was the appearance of Don Friese, former owner of CRL, who came out from behind the curtains as the man at the heart of FHC, the new CRL direct rival in the USA. Similarly styled, with a matching product line, and some might say the ‘top team’ formerly at CRL, his presence caused a positive stir as people lined up to meet, greet and shake hands with an old friend who is perhaps also one of the industry’s wealthiest self-made men.

As a former employee of Don, I was also happy to say hello and exchange some friendly words some five years since last we saw each other. The CRL/FHC rivalry in the USA will be an interesting one to watch for sure, though I had it from the top that FHC has no plans to come to Europe as CRL did 13 years ago.

Sadly, there where some empty spaces, notably on stands booked by Chinese suppliers who couldn’t get their goods, themselves, and often both, out to the USA due to visa and shipping issues. Others simply couldn’t get display items cleared in time through customs, and as an exhibitor myself I was sorry to see this, as I know how much investment in time and money goes into preparing for these few days in the limelight at a trade show.

Mask-wearing was a real bone of contention too, which added to the sometimes confused and downbeat feel. Arrival at the exhibition, passing through the temperature reading gates, and moving into the exhibition halls themselves, we were constantly reminded over the PA system that this was the rule, but of course nobody comes to an exhibition to talk through a muffler, and so everywhere you turned there was the odd cartoon-like scene of both exhibitors and visitors starting conversations with masks on, understanding nothing of what each other said, and then taking them off so they could actually communicate like human beings.

Visiting the USA for a glass exhibition? Well, if you want to be – or are already part of – the marketplace in North America, then it’s a must. If you are based outside North America, and are looking for new trends and innovations, perhaps Glasstec is still the best exhibition on a global platform, but Glass Build America is now pushing its way up the ranking.

Next year, the exhibition will be held in Las Vegas in October, and that promises to be a full-on show. Maybe see some of you there?